International Widows Day is no laughing matter

widows and orphans with credit

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress …” (James 1:27, NLT)

Mom, I don’t want to make you sad, and it sounds kind of weird, but it’s International Widows Day today.

That was the text message I received last Friday from my daughter, Emilie, while I was at the hair salon. I burst out laughing.

“Why do we need a day to acknowledge widows?” I said to my stylist.

“It’s not enough you have to deal with all the firsts and anniversaries, and now this?” he said.

“So what do you do on International Widows Day?” I wondered aloud. “Do you celebrate with a party, as if being a widow is a good thing? Do you say ‘Happy Widows Day’ to the widows in your life? Or do you gather the widows and orphans and have a good cry together?”

I was a little incredulous – and curious.

So I went home and researched what it was all about. Turns out International Widows Day (IWD) is no laughing matter.

The day was introduced by the Loomba Foundation in 2005 to “address the poverty and injustice faced by widows and their children in many countries,” and officially recognized by the United Nations in 2010. It is observed annually on June 23 – the date in 1954 that Lord Raj Loomba’s mother became a widow with seven children at the age of 37.

In the Looma Foundation’s “World’s Widow Report” released in 2016, Lord Loomba said, ““Widowhood is a hidden calamity. When an earthquake, tsunami or any other natural calamity happens, the world takes notice. We can measure the number of people who are killed and the financial consequences. The calamity of widowhood is far greater, affecting almost one seventh of humanity, yet it is largely invisible.”

This story from CNN by Alexandra King and Masuma Ahujad and the UN’s report here made me realize that widows in other parts of the world have a lot more to deal with than just the grief of losing a spouse.

For starters, loss of income reduces widows – often with no marketable skills – and their children to extreme poverty levels. Discrimination from family and community members – due to cultural perceptions in some countries of widows being cursed or evil – torments the women, leaving them isolated, lonely, fearful, confused and overwhelmed as they struggle to provide for their children.

Some are forced to marry their husband’s brother. Others are subjected to degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites and other forms of widow abuse. They lose not only their husbands and often everything they have, but also their position in society and basic human rights; many suffer violence – and even death – at the hands of their own family members.

One of the women featured in CNN’s story is a 52-year-old widow from Kenya who lost her husband 10 years ago when he was murdered in tribal clashes. She says, “… To be a widow in my country, you will be neglected by relatives, isolated by people, oppressed and denied your rights by family members, society and local government officials.”

A 75-year-old widow from India says that after her second husband’s death, “his children and my only daughter started beating and abusing me, threatened me with dire consequences, and forced me to sign property papers.”

Definitely puts my own situation in perspective. It’s true, I’ve suffered a significant loss of income since losing Paul (as do the majority of widows in the United States), but my family and I are not in poverty. And though I continue to feel the emotional roller coaster of emotions as I navigate the grief process, I haven’t lost my status as a human being with dignity and basic human rights. Sure, I feel overwhelmed at times trying to manage the demands of being the head of household, but I have tons of support from family and loving friends who are all too happy to respond to my requests for help.

Though I dislike the real and painful effects I’m experiencing as a widow, I have much to be thankful for – and many sisters in widowhood to pray for.

Thanks to Emilie, I’ll know what to do when International Widows Day roles around next year. Instead of cracking up in disbelief, I’ll turn my attention, and that of those around me, to the plight of the estimated 259 million widows worldwide who suffer prejudice and discrimination. And I’ll thank God for those who work so tirelessly to care for us in our distress.


Cut me some slack

woman alone

(Written one night while wrestling with the anger that finds its way into the process of grief, either on its own or provoked by something someone said. Shared in an effort to help others better understand the grieving soul.)

Cut me some slack.

Don’t take it personally if I turn down your invitation to dinner or if I don’t seem enthused by your offer to spend the day together. Forgive me if I don’t return your phone call for a few days — okay, weeks.

I’m not breaking up with you.

I’m suffering with grief.

No, I’m not curled up in the fetal position, wiping away tears with the same tissue that I just used to blow my nose … or maybe I am.  I’m not wallowing in self-pity either, at least not every day.

I’m just learning to live with loss, and that takes time.

So, excuse me from my usual interest in your life. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. In fact, I think of you often. I’ve just had to narrow my world considerably, increase my margins, choose more carefully how and with whom I spend my time.

Those who are compelled to rescue others, please don’t go all co-dependent on me. Sure, I may be a little depressed from time to time, but no more than the average person visited by grief.

If it helps to understand, I am in full introvert mode. It drains me more than ever to be interacting with people. I require more solitude these days, so don’t expect too much from me.

Give me your patience. Be okay with the space between us.

Those of you prone to worry and drama, resist the urge to let your imagination run wild picturing me on a ledge looking down. After all, I live in a one-story home!

I’ll call for help if I need it. I promise.

I haven’t lost my faith, either. I still have hope. So don’t waste your time preaching to me about focusing on my many blessings or how grateful I should be that Paul is in heaven with Jesus. You mean well, I know, but it doesn’t sit well with me. Not now.

The truth is, you can’t shorten my time of grief. I won’t let you. This is a very personal walk that I must make on my own, in my own way and time.

If you want to help, cut me some slack and have faith that this, too, shall pass.

I’ll come around at some point.

Trust me. I will.

I am a literary worm!

book stack

I am not brilliant; not a genius.

I’ve not read all the classics of literature; not even close.

I couldn’t quote one sentence, let alone a lengthy passage from any of the ones I have read. 

How can I possibly think I could be a successful writer?

I am a literary worm!

Those were my thoughts as I walked away from one of the workshops I attended last month at the Writing for Your Life Conference in Holland, Michigan.

I spent the next hour talking myself off the ledge.

Don’t get me wrong. This was an excellent conference for spiritual writers.

writers conference attendees

From the intimately sized Advanced Writers Retreat held on Monday at Western Theological Seminary to the larger conference at Hope College with a dozen or so presenters on Tuesday and Wednesday, it was equal parts empowering and challenging.

At the advanced retreat, Sarah Arthur helped me to nail down my mission and vision as a writer and gave me tools to help with setting goals toward that end. Brian Allain talked to us about of the importance of building an online platform and gave me ideas for promoting my work.

To hear keynote speakers Barbara Brown Taylor and Rachel Held Evans at the main conference was worth the entrance fee alone.

In different ways, they both spoke about the importance of knowing who we are — and who we are not — and then, following the Spirit’s lead, writing truthfully from that perspective. I resonated with Taylor’s description of her writing as being her “primary spiritual practice,” and “a sacred art — work that is aimed at giving life and more freedom” to her readers, and I liked Held’s perspective that spiritual writing is an “inherently incarnational work,” the process of putting ‘flesh on the truth.'”

Then there were the workshops led by experienced editors and writers who offered practical tools to make me a better writer and underscored that keeping one’s “butt in chair” is the only way to get the work done.

You tend to fly high after these writers’ meccas. You can’t wait to get alone with your computer and start page one of your next, or first, book.

But it seems there’s always the one workshop that makes you doubt your potential for finding an audience. You wonder why you ever thought you were qualified to sit among the few, the chosen, the published.

It was the second from the last workshop that did it for me. My choice, I know, to fall to the floor and slither out of the classroom like a worm trying to find its way back into familiar dirt, but it’s not easy to keep the critical demons at bay when you’ve just sat under the tutelage of a brilliant writer and spell-binding teacher.

His name -dropping of literary classics and essays he knew well made my own reading list seem pathetically shallow, and his ability to quote long passages of said classics while I struggled to remember what he’d said just a few minutes before, pulled me down like quicksand into a sense of inadequacy.

“If you were legit, JoAnn, you’d know who the hell Mary Karr is and why she is a must-read author,” I wrote in my journal.” You’d be able to nod in agreement about the wisdom of John Sullivan and be familiar with the work of all the great poets he named.”

As I continued to journal, I knew my near-fatal thinking was the result of comparing my average self to the presenter’s extraordinary mind. And more than that, I was forgetting that at the heart of spiritual writing is a dependence on the One who compels us to offer our take on the sacred texts and invites us to capture holy moments as we see them so that others can see them, too.

One of the hardest things about writing — besides keeping my butt in the chair — is being okay with my voice, telling my truth as honestly as I can, just like the workshop presenter did for his audience.

I may not be as well-read as a literature professor or have the memory of a genius, but I am an accomplished writer who, by God’s grace, has persisted in my craft. My pilgrimage as a writer will not look like yours, and that’s okay, because it is a God-paved road to self-discovery that each of us must make on our own.


How about you, friends? What comparisons derail you from being the unique human God made you to be? How do you pull yourself out of the muck of self-doubt? I’d love to know.